Traveling and the New Red Tape
Since September 11th, we have been subject to many new security precautions. Knowing the alternatives, most of us understand we must tolerate these new regulations, along with whatever extra time and energy they require. But, as parents, we now have even more "red tape" to get used to. We have researched some of the new rules for you to help you become more aware and better prepared for your child’s next trip.
Kids Flying Solo
With summer around the corner, many of us are planning for our children to visit a parent or grandparents in another part of the country. Airlines have established a litany of rules for what they are calling "unaccompanied minors." A child between the ages of 5 and 12 who travels without a parent or guardian is considered an "unaccompanied minor." These general guidelines are helpful, but please be aware that each airline’s rules differ slightly. Be sure to check with your specific airline prior to your child’s departure date. A child must be at least 5-years-old to fly alone. Kids ages 5 to 8 can take a direct flight to a single destination but cannot make connecting flights. Children over eight may change aircraft, but they will be escorted by airline personnel to their connecting flight, and you will be charged a fee of $40 - $75. Some airlines, Southwest, for instance, will not allow any minor (5-11) to change planes.
If you send your child by plane, you are required to fill out a detailed form with the child’s name, age and other relevant information (such as medical conditions). When you arrive at the airport, you should ask at check-in for a pass to get you through security to accompany your child to the gate. Wait with your child until the plane is in the air. As we all know, last minute things happen at airports. It’s all too common it is to be sitting comfortably on board, ready for take-off, only to be told we must deplane, wait an hour and move to another gate. So, just to be safe, allow yourself enough time to stay until your child’s plane has taken off. Upon arrival, children will be escorted from the aircraft by a flight attendant and released to the person you have designated prior to departure. This person will be asked for identification. Airlines are very strict about releasing children only to the person you have named. So if Dad has agreed to pick up at the airport, be sure he knows that he must go himself.
Older kids, ages 12 to 15, are not routinely escorted, but you can request this service. Kids this age will want to have some form of identification on them; a school ID could suffice, but check with the airline. Note that anyone under the age of 17 who is flying alone on an international flight must have a signed note from a parent or responsible adult giving permission, destination and length of stay.
Be prepared; pack a carry-on with some of your child’s favorite games, snacks and a calling card in case he has to make an emergency call. You may be more comfortable sending a cell phone with your child so he can keep you posted on his progress. Be sure your child understands that cell phones are not allowed during the flight, unless permission is given. My 14-year-old was once traveling alone when his flight was diverted because of weather to an airport two hours away. Everyone was given a window of time in-air to make a call. I was very glad he had that phone with him. Once in the air, you can track your child’s flight by calling the airline or going to www.flightarrivals.com.
Write out all of your contact information, as well as that of the person picking your child up, on a sheet of paper. Also write down the information for all flights he is taking during the trip. Be sure kids understand that they must be respectful of the airline personnel helping them. Older children may think they don’t need any help and head off on their own, only to cause confusion and panic for everyone. Talk through the whole process with your child, and reassure him that if something unexpected happens, someone from the airline will help.
Passports for Everywhere
The U.S. State Department is phasing in changes to passport requirements. By December 31, 2007 Americans of all ages will need to have a passport to travel by air anywhere outside the U.S., even Canada and Mexico. Here is what the changes look like:
• Americans must now have a passport for all travel to or from Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda.
• A passport is required for all air and sea travel to or from Canada and Mexico by Dec. 31, 2006.
• Americans must have a passport for all land travel to Canada and Mexico (as well as air and sea travel) by Dec. 31, 2007.
Very few Americans even have passports today, so avoid the last minute rush and get them for your family. There are specific rules for minors; for instance, your child must be present to get a passport, even if he or she is an infant. Go to http://travel.state.gov/ for more information.
Traveling with Only One Parent
According to Department of State Publication 10542, the rise in custody cases, even international ones, has caused countries like Mexico to pass laws requiring a child traveling alone, or with only one parent, or in someone else’s custody, to carry written, notarized consent from the absent parent or parents. No authorization is needed if the child travels alone and is in possession of a U.S. passport. A child traveling alone with a birth certificate requires written, notarized authorization from both parents. This permission letter can simply be a letter stating specific details about the trip, the custodial adult(s), and the child. It is also smart to include consent for the adult to authorize emergency medical treatment for your child in case the need arises. This letter must be notarized by an official notary. Check your yellow pages for one near you. The cost is usually $10-12. While Mexican officials can be inconsistent and many people find they aren’t asked for this information after they have gone through the trouble of getting it, you don’t want to risk ruining your trip because you don’t have it. Airlines, cruise lines, and immigration agents can deny minor children initial boarding or entry to foreign countries without proper proof of identification and citizenship and this permission letter from the absent or non-custodial parents.
While it sounds like a lot of hullabaloo, if you have all of the necessary paperwork in hand and you have made arrangements ahead of time, your child’s next trip should feel like smooth sailing.